Spy Kids (2001)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 5/20/01
Written And Directed By: Robert Rodriguez
Music: Danny Elfman, Los Lobos
Special Effects: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Danny Trejo, Robert Patrick, Teri Hatcher, George Clooney, Cheech Marin

Utterly fantastic! Underrated guerilla filmmaker Robert Rodriguez triumphs again with this amazing gem of family entertainment. A non-stop dose of high octane fun and adventure with a lot of heart as well. Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) are retired Cold War spies who fell in love, got married, and are busy raising a family. They have two young children, Carmen (super-cute Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara), who are suffering from the pains of growing up and feel somewhat detached and disillusioned. When some of their former fellow agents start disappearing, mom and dad decide to tackle one last mission, only to fall victim to a sinister villain. Then it's up to Carmen and Juni to save their parents (and the world) by becoming secret agents themselves. Good finally prevails and the message of the film is loud and clear: "Spy work is easy, but keeping a family together is hard."

I feel like I should apologize directly to Mr. Rodriguez himself for not seeing this film when it first came out. I simply rolled my eyes and groaned when I heard that he was directing a kid's movie. But if you liked "El Mariachi" (1992), "Desperado" (1995), or "From Dusk Til Dawn" (1996), you'll undoubtedly enjoy this film as well. The direction is excellent and the characters are great. It's so inspiring to see what Rodriguez can do with limited resources and a cast that obviously enjoys working with him. Rodriguez himself even tackled the job of special effects supervisor and created many of the film's effects in his own garage! Granted, there are about a half dozen effects shots that look AWFUL, but they're easily forgiven within the scope and intent of the work. The music is wonderful and Danny Elfman provides some creepy and spooky tunes a la "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993). Although Juni's character (the youngest boy) is a bit annoying and tiresome, the precocious Carmen is a pure treat to watch. Cute, smart, and sassy, she's a perfect embodiment of youth and beauty about to explode with feminine aggression. And she's a good actress as well. An extremely smart and enjoyable film.